There comes a time, in everyone’s training life, that you become stuck. All the things that were working so well before are now no longer getting you the desired effect. And it’s frustrating, frustrating as F**K! It happens sooner or later to all of us. But the purpose of this blog is to change your mindset when it comes to training so that you can reap the rewards of your programme for the maximum amount of time. This will, in turn, maximise your progress and keep that goddamn frustration to a minimum!
The key to maximising the effectiveness of your training programme is to always have one eye on the long-term. Like it or not, it takes time and a lot of effort to make meaningful progress in our out of the gym. Like it or not, you’re probably going to be taking part in some form of exercise or another for the rest of your days because, when you start, it’s unbelievably difficult to go back to the life you had before – where it didn’t feel like your fitness or physique or strength seemed to matter. Oh, them were the days!
But now you’ve started training! You can’t duck out now. Sure, we all take extended breaks from time to time for whatever reason, but we never truly leave. In the back of our minds there is still that burning desire to reach our dream goals. And it helps a lot if you can see progress when you are in the gym bustin’ your ass 4,5 or however many times a week.
Follow these guidelines, and you shall continue to see consistent progress over a long period of time:
1. Leave something in the tank – this is a big one. You don’t have to max out every workout. Depending on what you are training for, you may not have to max out any workout! All too often you will see people bench pressing until they have to get someone to rescue them from under the bar, or running round a football pitch until they throw up. But you have to realise that this isn’t a clever nor sustainable way to train. Don’t keep driving your training sessions into a brick wall. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be pushing yourself, you should be, every single session, but always try and leave something until next time. There are several reasons for this:
* It will build confidence – knowing you are consistently completing exercises reasonably comfortably will allow you to be more confident on
the gym floor, and teach your body to perform complete reps (more on that later). It is much more comforting leaving the gym knowing that you had another rep or sprint in the bag than it is feeling like a barbell has just through you up and down the car park. The last thing you need when you are trying to perform past your previous best is that feeling you had when you were struggling and writhing your way to your last rep the week before. Keep insecurities away from the gym. You need to build a boss-like mentality, and your results will follow.
* It will stop you plateauing – sooner rather than later, if you are consistently maxing out during your training sessions, then your progress will stall, and that is what we are trying to avoid. There is just too much demand to recover fully from this type of training for it to be beneficial in the long-term. Always remember, no matter what you are training for in the gym or outside of the gym, be it for size or an upcoming marathon or powerlifting competition – all you are really looking for is a training effect that allows you to come back even stronger at your training method than you were before. So don’t rob yourself of gains and improvements just because of a lack of patience. For example, say you are bench pressing 60kg for your prescribed number of sets and reps but you are finding it pretty easy. Instead of increasing the load to, say 70kg, why don’t you only increase it to 62.5kg, then 65kg the week after and so on. The reason for that is that there is still a training effect to be had from the 62.5kg barbell. There is a much bigger chance of you struggling and stalling after taking the large jump to 70kg in search of short-term gains than there is from using the training effect from all the weights between 60 and 70kg, and therefore arriving at the 70kg barbell in much better shape mentally and physically to cope and go heavier. Use the weights in the gym as tools to help you achieve your goals, not as tests that you have to overcome. Similarly, if you are training for an endurance race, and you recently completed a 3km run, Instead of jumping to a 5km run the next time, obtain the training effect from shorter 3.5km and 4km runs to ensure you are in much better condition to deal with and surpass the 5km run. Sure this method will take longer in the short-term, but will definitely be quicker in the long-term, with a much higher chance of success. You want to keep the level you can potentially train at always in front of the level you actually train at. As soon as your current training meets your potential training, that is when your progress will grind to a halt.
* It will allow you to train more regularly – submaximal training will allow your body to recover more efficiently, will reduce the risk of injuries, and will ensure you are able to train at a higher level consistently than if you
were training with maximal output every session. Remember, it will be hundreds if not thousands of training sessions which take you towards your goals – a cumulative effort with each session building on the last.
2. Keep a training log – you have probably this one over and over, but nothing will help you more to track your progress and plan your training better than a training log. Make it a blank pad, diary, spreadsheet or whatever you want, just as long as you have a record of what you achieved in your training sessions. It can also be a good idea to attach a motivational list, quote or picture to the front or your training log – for times when your enthusiasm towards your training is waning and you need reminded why you started in the first place.
3. Control the variables – a good way of maintaining progress, and also predictability of progress, is to control all of the training variables you possibly can and change only the ones you intend to. Training at the same time each day, after the same meals, after the same warm-up routine and in the same exercise order can help you more readily predict how you will be able to perform in that training session and change the variables that are going to allow you to progress – ie. number of sets/reps, distance ran, speed cycled, weight lifted etc.
4. Look to the long-term – whatever your goal, it will take time to get there. So be patient, and always have that goal in mind and take satisfaction in clawing and edging your way closer to it every training session. But having a goal that seems so far away can be demoralising in itself, so set mini-goals along the way – see below.
5. Every workout, have a goal – before every workout, set yourself a goal that you want to achieve during that session. A goal that, no matter what, as long as you achieve you will leave the gym happy and one step closer to your main goal.
6. Starting weights/distances etc. – aim low! – this part of the guidelines is in tune with the long-term aspect of training. When beginning a new training programme, you are looking to make progress over a certain period of time towards an end goal. By starting with submaximal efforts at the start of your programme, it allows you to build momentum session on session, week on week – instead of starting with near-maximal efforts straight away which will quickly lead to you struggling to make any progress.
Starting too light allows for more time for you to progress forward. It’s easy for anyone – beginner or advanced – to want to get ahead of themselves. Your lifts
will go up for a few months, but then they’ll stall – and stall, and stall some more. Lifters get frustrated and don’t understand that the way around this is to prolong the time it takes to get to the goal. You have to keep inching forward. This is a very hard pill to swallow for most lifters. They want to start heavy, and they want to start now. This is nothing more than ego, and nothing will destroy a lifter faster, or for longer, than ego.
7. Have a fun day – every so often, be it every week month or whatever, allow yourself a fun training day. A day where you can test your max lifts in the gym (although not every week – see point 1), play 5 aside football or just do exercises you haven’t done in a while. This will provide a mental break from the rigours of your usual routine and also allow you to plug some gaps you feel may be present in your programme.
Just to be clear, I am not advocating a lazy approach to your training. Your training should be programmed in a way where you are challenged every time you enter the gym or walk on to the track or wherever you train. Stopping one rep shy of failure is a lot different to stopping five reps from failure, though.
In short, the best way to ensure long-term progress is to allow yourself every chance of making that progress. I know it sounds too simple, but sometimes when we feel we are helping ourselves reach those goals, we are actually hindering ourselves and building big obstacles that need not be in our way.
Achieve this and you will enter what I like to call your ‘Training Nirvana’. A place where everything seems to go perfect in regards to training. Where you look back and you can’t remember one single training session but instead just a blur where you felt unstoppable in the gym. Where one training session isn’t important because the whole programme worked together to get you where you are now. Let me know when you get there.